Friday, December 28, 2007

Why is the Election Up in the Air?

The presidential election is up in the air, a week before Iowa, because "Iowa" is much too soon. We cannot one year choose the person whom we will support for president a year later. It's too long a time span; tipping point is reached. We need a rotating primary, four groups of states chosen by lottery, states in the last group last time are in the first group this time. Once a week during May, convention around 4th of July. Something like that.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Hillary's Achievement

Paul Krugman in today's NYT continues his refinement of a political argument (as distinct from an economic one) in a very perspicuous column; whether one accepts all of his premises or not, the point is very clear. Real change will require leaders who are willing to confront the vested interests in the status quo. Krugman goes on to say that Edwards looks better than Obama when viewed in this light. That may be so (I guess I do agree with Krugman on both the general and the specific point in fact), but it got me thinking about Hillary Clinton.
Hillary Clinton has no visible advocates in the "chattering classes" media. The liberal media (Chris Matthews/MSNBC, The Nation, NPR, the cybersphere) disdain her at best, and do their best to test her weaknesses at every opportunity. No self-respecting bohemian sort or bourgeois intellectual would openly back her. There are "pundits" who allow of their support of Giuliani, or Obama, or Huckabee or Edwards, but not a Hillary-advocate is to be heard. Meanwhile on the right it is as it has ever been: Hillary Clinton is Stalin, a blood-sucking vagina dentata or whatever they call it, a liar, a thief, the Mafia. But that of course is exactly the political climate in which the Clintons have always lived. And they have led and through the 90s the Clintons accomplished the third Democratic regime of the second half of the 20th century (after JFK/LBJ, and Jimmy Carter). And today Hillary Clinton, after weeks of late-campaign tightening-up erosion at the polls, is still, folks, in the lead. She leads without the backing of the media, just like the Clintons always have done.
And that's what was striking me reading Krugman's column. Obama, Krugman's argument goes, is too naive in his advocacy of conciliation (a la Woodrow Wilson and Carter?), while Edwards recognizes that progress will require some political contest to determine whose interests will prevail over whom. This dovetails with a theme of this blog, that a Clinton victory is important because, among other things, that would be a symbolic defeat for the movement conservatives, and they are the ones who need to be defeated for liberal government to move forward. But I think that Clinton is the best alternative here. The Clintons use the system to fight the battle, the way the Republicans do. The resolve is there at the bottom of things.
And there's a "silent majority" effect here too. We're not hearing from Clinton supporters in the media, but they are the largest plurality of voters among likely Democratic voters than any other candidate has of voters in their party. But then there's another item of old news: people always underestimate the Clintons.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Huckabee's Sting, Pt. II

Today we hear that Mike Huckabee, currently dusting it up with Mitt Romney for the GOP nomination, asked the question, "Don't Mormons believe that Jesus Christ and the Devil are brothers?" The answer, for the record, is no, they don't. Apparently it's an old anti-Mormon canard. Asked about it on MSNBC this morning Romney showed a good ability, and not for the first time, to take the high road. I expected him to pounce on this, and the other shoe hasn't dropped yet in terms of the response from the Mormon community. Remember them? They have some millions (between four and five million? I'll check) of members in this country, who vote overwhelmingly Republican in case you didn't know. Imagine if a leading candidate said something like that about a Jewish candidate, or a Catholic one. This glimpse inside Mr. Huckabee's mind ought to get the message across that apparently failed to register when he talked about gays, and guns, and science: he's not ready for prime time. Maybe I shouldn't be pointing this out. After all, I want the Democrats to win.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Sting Like a Huckabee

Mike Huckabee is now a serious contender for the Republican nomination. Of course, so are maybe four other people, and the lurch to Huckabee may be just that: another symptom of disarray and desperation in the GOP. Be that as it may, here's a suggestion: nominate Huckabee, and the Republicans lose the election. I don't think, at this point, that the Republicans can't win the election under any circumstances. The Democrats' true virtuosity seems to lie in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, and it could very well be that in 2008 they'll swing their third strike in a row. But to nominate a candidate whose national political profile is anti-gun control, statements very close to advocating internment camps for gay people (check that out for yourself, I'm not exaggerating), Southern Baptist preacher, that has got to be political suicide.
On the other hand, the party bosses were worried about a too right-wing candidate in 2000, so they looked around for someone "electable" who wouldn't frighten the children, and the rest is history. I think that it's important this time around not only that the Democrats win, but that the conservatives lose (not the same thing), which is why I'm for Clinton, so maybe Mr. Nice Guy bass player right wing nutjob isn't such a bad idea. How many points does one lose in the general election for being a homophobic bigot in America in 2008?

Monday, December 3, 2007

Will Chavez Be Strong or Weak?

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez does not get entirely fair press in the US. His work to really benefit the poorer classes of Venezuela is discounted, his narcissism and obstreperousness are distracting, and his Fidelismo and anti-Americanism that once seemed clownish is now at least a little bit threatening. His own ability to alienate people is the main thing holding him back on the international scene, not the opposition of Washington (He has closely studied Castro's art of using the US as a Great Satan, and like Castro he relies on hostility from Washington for political fuel).
There is a basic question, though, that we might ask of any charismatic leader: is he committed to the rule of law and democracy in a constitutional republic, or is he committed to the rule of himself? People on the right and people on the left all tell themselves that their project of social transformation, and the power of their evil enemies, justifies suborning the democratic process. Castro, Pinochet, Guzman (Sendero Guzman I mean), Franco. I fail to see the difference. And anyway, if Fidel Castro is not smart enough to be the executive of The Just State, then Hugo Chavez sure as hell isn't. So will Chavez go down in history as a democrat or a despot?
This is the question on the occasion of the narrow (51% vs. 49%) defeat of his measure to centralize power more tightly on himself, and eliminate any limit to his time in "office" (dictators don't really have offices, in the formal sense. They just have buildings). He acquiesced, saying in effect, "We didn't make it this time, we'll do it eventually." So he respected the democratic process, and that's good, and that shows the rest of the world that Venezuela is not too far gone down the fascist path that they could not recover themselves politically (and neither is Iran, by the way). But Mr. Chavez doesn't help much with his manner that he respects the democratic process but just barely. The final verdict on what kind of political leader he really is lies in the future.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Middle East Linkage

"Linkage" was a favorite concept of Henry Kissinger's during his "shuttle diplomacy" days in the 1970s. It conveyed both the idea that Middle Eastern regional affairs were (are) in fact intricately interconnected, and the idea that if somebody wanted something from the US they needed to make progress on their relations with Israel. True to form, the US has in the years since failed utterly to live by this diplomatic maxim. As long as the Palestinian problem remains an open wound for the Arab world, prospects for progress on other regional problems will remain gloomy. But linkage works both ways. Equally obtuse are the Iranians, who routinely pledge that they are committed to the destruction of Israel and then express outrage that the West opposes their nuclear program, almost as if they were daring anyone to draw the all-too-obvious connection. In fact the parallels between the US and Iran at this point are striking. Both countries claim (with some justification) that their hard-line regimes are products of the other's past meddling. Both countries' hard-line regimes use the other to demagogue their people and stay in power. But it is also true of both the US and Iran that they are big, heterogenous, multifaceted nations, with many more political possibilities than the troglodyte leaderships that they currently have, and that people around the world are quick to say that they despise the governments, not the people, of these nations. Here's to coevolution.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

How is the Court Political?

"How is the Supreme Court political?' is a different question than "How political is the Supreme Court?" Throughout the history of the Court it has been a quintessentially political institution, contrary to popular mythology (if anything Supreme Court politics was even rougher and more partisan during the nineteenth century than during the twentieth). There is a dark side to this (Court appointments shamelessly subordinated to political considerations of the executive), but also a more positive side, as Court rulings do measurably shift with popular sentiment (again, contrary to popular perceptions). So, how political is it? Very.
But how is it political? Politics in a constitutional democracy has to do with the tension between abstract ideology and personal prejudice. The same voter who will affirm his commitment to universal civil rights may not be comfortable with an African-American or a woman in a position of authority. It also has to do with the tension between ideology and practicalities. Those of us who don't have to make the tough votes can indulge ourselves in scorn for the routinely compromised elected officials who do. And so on. It's important to understand that the individual citizens who happen to sit on the Supreme Court are in the same position as everybody else. It's just not true that judges follow some sort of formula to produce dispassionate, impersonal rulings, nor would it be a good thing if that were true (mandatory sentencing guidelines, for example, bureaucratize and dehumanize the justice system).
In an earlier post on this blog I speculated that our heavily Catholic Supreme Court, with a Chief Justice whose wife has headed anti-abortion organizations, just might outlaw the death penalty; a surprising expression of the varieties of "conservatism." Right-to-life conservatism is not consistent with support for the death penalty, a point that the Catholic Church has been pressing for years, mostly on deaf ears in American Republican circles. Yesterday we learned that the Court will consider whether the Constitution upholds the right of an individual to have guns in his house. This puts the Court in an interesting position. According to the conservative tradition of "strict constructivism," the Constitution does not uphold some open-ended set of "rights" (such as the right to privacy). On this view, judges should not create "rights" that are not explicitly stated in the Constitution. There is no doubt that Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, Alito and the gang would deny a right to contraceptives, say, or the right to drink alcohol.
So here is the interesting tension: the Second Amendment refers to "well-regulated militias." Constructionists affirm the right of legislatures to make public policy, and oppose "judicial activism," as in courts interfering with state and local legislative warrant. In this case, the District of Columbia is appealing a Federal Court ruling that the right to keep handguns at home is an individual right: the Roberts Court has chosen to review that pro-gun decision. Will the Roberts Court take a course that will inflame pro-gun conservatives? And what an irony if it does.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Cold War Hangover in Pakistan

The "Cold War" standoff between the West and the Soviet Union effectively ended with the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, but the foreign policy establishment and military infrastructure that grew up over a half-century are proving to be slow to change. This means that we still have the same dangers to our own government and economy that General Eisenhower warned us about in his farewell address (the "military-industrial complex") and a new set of dangers as our atrophied system continues to apply Cold War formulas to new and different challenges. This is strikingly apparent today with the political crisis in Pakistan.
During the Cold War period, foreign policy seemed to be easy, a by-the-numbers affair. The greatest threat was Soviet communism, so every other foreign policy or security problem, large or small, could be subjected to the same reductionist program: who's on our side, who's on their side? The roughest sort of dictators were not only tolerated but supported, installed, fought for by US troops. Anti-Americanism today in South Korea and the rest of the Pacific Rim, in Iran and the Middle East, in Chile and many other South American countries, in South Africa and beyond is a dividend from this dark, Machiavellian period, the high point of the American "empire" (empire is a bad thing, and a self-consciously imperial power is a power in decline). A post-Cold War world, with a multipolar geostrategic framework replacing the bipolar Cold War world, requires a far-reaching adaptation and transformation of the way the US conducts diplomacy and security. Among other things it represents an opportunity for the US to stand down from the dangerous and undesirable position of world policeman.
But old habits are hard to break, particularly when large sectors of the economy and the bureaucracy are dependent creatures of the old way of doing things. The Bush administration has avoided the hard work of transformation by simply finding a new bugaboo to plug in to the old Soviet role: Islamic nationalism. Dictators can still be coddled, the US can stay at the center of the global arms trade (which is worse for a community, being economically dependent on a vast prison system or on being the arms merchant to the world's violence?). The alternative is doom at the hands of the "terrorists" ("communists"). The political temptation to abuse this is too strong to resist. Any populist, any independent nationalist, any moderate socialist was a "communist." Today they are "Islamofascists."
And so we see our troglodyte, Cold War-mentality administration (the Secretary of State a Sovietologist by training) failing to smell the coffee on Pakistan. I wonder how many Americans are aware that Mrs. Bhutto is the daughter of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was hung in 1979 by General Zia-ul-Haq, another pro-US general who seized power in a military coup in 1977? Or that her mother, Nusrat Bhutto, was the head of the Pakistani People's Party? All-important historical context is lost under the weight of a too programmatic foreign policy. Pakistan is unlikely to slide into fundamentalist revolution under the more or less Westernized Bhutto faction (just as secular, just as Westernized as Musharraf). But say there was a major Islamic opening in Pakistan (or Turkey, where this is actually happening right now). It's just as likely that this movement would be a vehicle for much-needed reform as it is that it could result in an Iranian-style menace. If you want another Iran, keep on trampling the democratic process in Pakistan. Even Iran would start evolving away from Islamic dictatorship more easily without the reactionary pressures of conflict with the US (the same dynamic holds today in Cuba). People won't embrace retro religious fundamentalism for long, if they are just given their liberty. Algeria might have even worked through this if the democratic process was respected when that country elected an Islamic government, only to have the will of the people thwarted. We cannot be motivated by fear forever. The positive path is faith in human nature.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Paddycake with Rudy and Pat

On the occasion of Pat Robertson's endorsement of Rudy Giuliani for president, we have a window of opportunity here of about 24 hours when we can reasonably ask Rudy what he has to say about, for instance, Robertson's suggestion that the United States should assassinate Hugo Chavez? Robertson later apologized, as he has done for a long series of equally outrageous suggestions over the years, but it's fair to say that this is connected to why Rudy likes Pat and is surely why Pat likes Rudy. Rudy sells national security hawkishness. For someone like Robertson this policy satisfies all of his apocalyptic sensibilities as well as gives the government something to do other than domestic policy. Under a liberal government, Rudy is telling him, Christian conservatives shouldn't want a government that was activist on social policy. To weather the liberal storm, get the government out of social policy, and concentrate on national security. What he really is, Rudy goes on to say, is a guy who's running one of the most important security consulting firms in the world, with contracts with governments all over Asia (whether this is accurate, and if so whether that is good or bad, is a topic for another discussion). Probably Robertson made an impetuous mistake to throw over the Right's domestic agenda with this endorsement. Or perhaps this is part of some larger struggle between Robertson and James Dobson and the rest of the Council for National Policy, the Christian conservative leaders who made their "over our dead bodies" resolution about Giuliani a couple of weeks ago. In any event this schism on Rudy, along with the (to me, surprising) antagonism towards Mormons on the Christian right, makes it look like that movement is degenerating into sectarian conflict. Certainly both Robertson and Giuliani are using the prospect of external enemies as a unifying idea. One can only hope that all of this will be a dead end in the general election.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Giving Hillary the Treatment

I was struck by the prominence in the NYT today of a quotation from Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman on a major-party ticket as Walter Mondale's choice for VP in 1984. The larger discussion is about the spectacle of all those men beating up on Clinton in the debate the other night, and the question of how women are treated in the upper echelons of politics. "It's OK in this country to be sexist," she said. "It's certainly not OK to be racist...I don't think Barack Obama would have been attacked for two hours." Like all places in the world, so far as I know, there is an age-old problem with sexism here that a modern secular society, at least, ought to be able to address. As to that, let me salute Hillary Clinton for her achievement in getting to the point where all the men (simply by virtue of the fact that every other player is a man) feel called upon to gang up on her. It's called winning, and it comes with its own burdens, as politicians, boxers and beauty queens will attest. As to the accepted standards of comportment of the males, formally speaking that's unclear, since Hillary Clinton is now sailing through uncharted waters where no woman has gone before. Historically speaking if they had rocks they'd stone her.
As to Ferraro's remarks, they were made in the immediate aftermath of the debate and so I'm sympathetic that some of that is the anger talking. Also remember the generous slice of bitter truth. Of course she's way the hell off about how black people are better off in politics than women. With those caveats, I would point out to her (you know, I was going to call her "Geraldine," because back in the day that's what we called her, there was that fight song, remember? But then I was worried that that would be patronizing so I went with "Ferraro." Just an observation, I don't know what that means) two things: First, the beauty of it is that they're all ganging up on her because she's ahead with maybe 45-50 points of the total, leaving the rest of them in the dust. If they don't kill her she surely kills them. It's called winning and it's sweet and you should rejoice. The second rejoinder is that, notwithstanding the fact of women leaders in many other countries now and in the past, the USA is arguably the most feminist country on Earth, the birthplace and locomotive of global secular feminism. Rejoice and a la lucha.
All sorts of old issues bubble up with the renaissance of liberal politics. This tension between the politically active women, who tend to be richer, more educated, white, higher social status, and the black activists goes back to the days when English women were radicalized through their anti-slavery activities, for example. As to this issue of Hillary's treatment: To say that she should be treated as "one of the guys" misses the point that one of the benefits of women in politics ought to be some deeper transformation of political practice. On the other hand I'm of the opinion that wisdom is seeing the sameness among people. We also will be forced to confront some of these deeply internalized assumptions about men, women and sex roles in a new light throughout the campaign. All of this seems a bit awkward and fraught, maybe, but all to the good.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

The Theravadan Buddhism of Burma

In the classical Buddhist tradition that has its roots in the Vedic traditions of India, there are two principal streams. The Theravadan school is the older one, the "Way of the Elders" that claims the most direct lineage from the original Buddha Dharma and emphasizes the need for a lifetime of study (indeed for eons of lifetimes) for enlightenment, and also, therefore, the spiritual authority of the monks. Later the Mahayana ("Great Vehicle") movement, revolting against some of the social consequences of this essentially Hindu doctrine of the immortality of the soul, stresses the idea that the Boddhi path is open to ordinary people and that spiritual progress can be made during an ordinary lifetime. The Tantric Buddhism of the Tibetan Renaissance and (for somewhat independent reasons) the Zen Buddhism of the east are basically Mahayanic in their attitude towards spiritual authority (and this no doubt helps to explain the popularity of these doctrines in North America). But a rich Theravadic tradition lives on as well, in Southeast Asia. Around 250AD King Tissa of Sri Lanka was converted to Buddhism. (The Tamil nationalists are Hindus originally from Tamil Nadu in India.) From Sri Lanka this older, more conservative school of Buddhism colonized what are now Burma and Thailand. The monks are a very important part of the cultural infrastructure among the Buddhist people there. It may be that the pressures of global culture have made the monastaries vulnerable to attack from secular forces. It may be that like great rainforests, great repositories of culture and language are doomed to be wiped off the map. Or perhaps the monks and the people will together draw the strength to assert themselves once more.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Guaranteed Sacrifice-Free

The lack of movement in getting more visas for Iraqis to relocate to the United States is disturbing. While millions have fled both internally and into neighboring countries, visas for Iraqis to the US number in the scant five figures and even lower. It seems intuitive to me that if we destabilized the security situation in their country through our own unilateral action, whatever else might be said about that, we incur some obligation to offer a haven to people whose protection we removed. This is particularly compelling to me when I consider that many of these people are in danger in Iraq because they worked with the Americans, showing faith in our competence and integrity to protect them and help them to improve their lives. Vietnamese political refugees in the United States have developed into an important and prosperous part of the community; Iraqis would be coming into a country that already has one of the largest and most prosperous Arab communities in the world. Why doesn't the administration do the right thing and expedite visas in numbers commensurate with the needs of Iraqi political refugees?
There are several reasons, all bad. The administration is sensitive to conservative sentiment about immigration, an issue with which the administration has to its credit dealt more or less responsibly. The administration has campaigned by waving the bloody shirt of 9/11 so long that they can't now propose to let in some hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, as they should. To start a relatively large relocation program would be seen as acknowledgement of failure in Iraq. But most disturbingly of all, this is an administration that tries to tell the American people that wars can be fought with no sacrifice to Americans in general. The ideology seems to be that the Americans should never be called upon to make some collective sacrifices for a greater good. And that is the real measure of the administration.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

How to Help Cuba's Transition

On the occasion of President Bush's bellicose remarks about Cuba today, let me add my voice to the chorus: the United States economic blockade of Cuba is today the single most significant factor in keeping the Cuban Communist Party in power. The Argentines, Canadians, Spanish, Japanese etc. are funding and profiting from development projects in Cuba that would be business for the US if not for the self-defeating blockade. The restrictions have been in place for over forty years and have accomplished nothing except to keep 11 million Cubans in worse economic shape than they have to be, while shielding the miserably ineffective Communist economic regime from becoming discredited, as it would have been years ago if not for the short-sighted US policy. Cuba poses no threat to the United States, militarily, politically, economically, or by any other index. If the United States normalized relations with Cuba, which it could do unilaterally without so much as a meeting with Cuban officials, the Cuban government would very likely be gone within twelve months, maybe sooner. The Cubans know this and deliberately sabotage thaws in the relationship by executing dissidents, cracking down on political organizing and so forth whenever it looks like the US might soften its line. As soon as one of the political parties in this country succeeds in getting Florida's electoral votes without pandering to the aging revanchistes in Miami, the American agriculture and business community will have our Cuban policy dismantled in weeks, not months, because we're bleeding business. I can respect political differences, but if you believe that the economic blockade of Cuba is good American policy at this late date, you cannot be thinking straight. It is an absolute no-brainer.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

What Can Romney Buy?

This week's poll summaries on show a striking state of affairs in the Republican primaries: whereas nationally Mitt Romney is an anemic-looking fourth (behind John McCain), he's solidly ahead in Iowa, and in the number one spot, ahead of Giuliani by a couple of points, in New Hampshire. After that, he barely manages to rise to the top three in any other primary state. In fact the only state where he manages to place second in the polls is in Michigan, where his father was governor and a favorite son candidate for president in 1968. So the question is, what happens when a nationally unpopular candidate wins in Iowa and New Hampshire? The strategy is to convince enough voters to jump on the bandwagon that Romney goes from zero to hero both nationally and in important primary states like California, Florida, and South Carolina. This week's polls suggest that this time around that strategy is not a sure thing. But say the strategy works. Will that be a good thing for Republicans? There are problems on two levels: for the Party, the rank and file will have been sold a candidate who wouldn't have been their first choice without the artificiality of the "bounce" out of Iowa and New Hampshire; more reason to adopt a rotating first-primary schedule, in the name of small "d" democracy. This is acute in this situation because a larger than usual percentage of the candidate's money comes from his own fortune. We should all be wary of the plutocratization of politics, already too far along for the country's good. But second, what happens in the general election when the Party nominates someone who wasn't even popular with the faithful in the first place?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Obama Helping Hillary, Again

It has long been my contention on this blog that the candidacy of Barack Obama actually has helped Hillary Clinton. Through the long months of the summer, Obama fever kept everyone from seeing Hillary as the front-runner, and thus as the target, as well as providing her campaign with a useful sparring partner in preparation for the next twelve months. Now Obama is helping Clinton again, this time on the question of Iraq War policy. Clinton's early votes in support of the invasion are widely seen as her biggest liability with liberal and left voters who are overwhelmingly and passionately against the war. Obama, responding to criticism that he wasn't taking the fight to the Clintons, naturally chose war policy as the issue on which to attack her. His formulation is clear: Hillary differs from Bush on the conduct of the operation, Obama says, while he opposes the war altogether. This makes a good soundbite, but I predict that it will turn out to be another mistake ("another" because Clinton has already goaded Obama into making mistakes with foreign policy pronouncements, such as his suggestion that he might send troops into Pakistan, or that he would consider using nuclear weapons, or that he would be willing to talk to any dictator). What Clinton is doing now is demonstrating that she will be a responsible executive. Given the tragic fact that we are in Iraq, the endgame will be complicated and difficult to maneuver. Iraqi leaders and American generals will be briefing the next President on the possible outcomes of various scenarios: might a too precipitous withdrawal lead to genocidal ethnic cleansing? Might a complete withdrawal open the way for an Iranian, or Turkish, or Saudi invasion? And so on. So when Obama says that, unlike Clinton, he's just plain anti-war, what's the next question? Does that mean, Senator, that your proposal is to simply withdraw immediately, come what may? And if not, how are you different from Clinton? He's painted into a corner: basic mistake. And who comes out looking good? I won't say, but she's one of the other candidates.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Voting for a Woman

Voting for a woman is what I hope to be doing next year. Yesterday I heard this question raised: isn't it arbitrary to vote for someone just because she's a woman? This question arises when we see poll numbers, like we did this week, that suggest (well, the one said) that over 90 percent of women under 35 say that they are more likely to vote if one of the presidential candidates is a woman. The gender gap, thus far, has been a partisan phenomenon, and it has worked both ways: the Republican Party can rely on receiving a greater share of male votes just as the Democrats get a greater share of female votes. With a woman candidate, the thinking goes, the gender gap will suddenly widen, with the advantage to Hillary (although it remains to be seen how many men will turn out to vote against a woman). It may be that we will have the first presidential election where the outcome is unambiguously a result of women voters voting for one of their own.
Which brings us back to the question: is this a superficial reason to vote? The answer is no, it's not. The reason it's not superficial is that women diverge from men, statistically, on a whole range of issues. Women's views on gun control, abortion rights, even the conduct of foreign policy are measurably distinct from men's. That's why women are more likely to support Democratic candidates, after all. It's true that many women would turn out to vote for a woman who was a Republican, just as many (not all) black voters would enthusiastically vote for a black Republican presidential candidate, even if they had never voted Republican before. But that still would not be a superficial vote. A woman President can be expected to have a different style, tone, and substantial differences on a wide range of issues. And don't let conservatives get away with claiming that they're "gender-blind" now at long last, when it finally suits their purposes. At this point the conservatives have become a very right-wing bunch. Does anyone doubt that our contemporary right wing (unlike that of, say, thirty years ago) would have voted against women's suffrage?
This discussion itself is a taste of things to come over the next year. Now that Hillary is closing in on the nomination, the historical significance of the moment is starting to dawn on everyone and make itself felt in the popular discussion. That will snowball into enthusiasm about the prospect of a woman President. The question is, how big of a snowball?

Friday, October 12, 2007

Some Notes on Gore

Al Gore was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize this morning. I remember the Democratic primaries of 1988, when Gore was test-piloting the Southern, centrist, Democratic Leadership Council strategy that Bill Clinton rode to victory four years later. I was a Dukakis supporter in '88, backing the Democratic front-runner as usual, although in hindsight I feel I ought to have supported Jesse Jackson and helped shake things up for once. I didn't care much for Gore that time around: he was pro-death penalty, anti-gun control, centrist enough to not be much of an alternative to the Republicans, I thought. How much has changed since then!
Today, though, so far as Presidential politics is concerned, Gore is Cincinnatus. In the early primary season of 2004 the Democrats turned their collective back on Al Gore. He was wooden, they said, unattractive, too scripted, and it was true by then that he had become palpably self-conscious. It was a political fate akin to John McCain's this time around, a well-credentialed candidate definitively rejected by the voters (although McCain's story has not yet been fully written). But since that time, Al Gore cannot run for president. As soon as he starts doing that, he immediately will be transformed into the same old Al Gore of yesteryear. That doesn't mean he can't be president. It means that in order to be nominated, he has to be equally definitively drafted by his party. Not a staged "drafting," it has to be that the rank and file is unquestionably begging him to do it. If that came to pass, he'd do it. He'd still like to be President. The problem for this scenario is named Hillary Clinton. She increasingly looks like the choice of the party (and there is talent on the bench behind her). Only an unexpected and catastrophic collapse of Hillary's campaign could create the conditions for a Gore nomination. He's still in the top two choices of this Clinton supporter. I'm unable to decide whether I'd prefer Clinton or Gore given the choice, maybe the Clintons are more president material (not exactly a compliment, but reason for voting). But it's not going to happen.
Meanwhile one argument came up on TV tonight that needs addressing. The idea was that since very little can actually be done about global warming, it doesn't make sense to invest lots of treasure in trying to do something about it. The first level of argument here is about the empirical accuracy of this, but I'll leave that to everybody else. Logical point: risk assessment involves calculating both probabilities and utilities. There is a difference between a one in a hundred chance of losing ten dollars and a one in a hundred chance of losing your life. If anything near the negative utilities of, say, sea-level rise due to global warming, or shortages of fresh water, is even possibly true, we have every reason to do everything we can. Parting shot: a certain glib conservative on MSNBC chided Democrats for "not being honest about the sacrifices involved." At least Democrats don't tell the people that they should never have to sacrifice anything, like the Bush Republicans. It's the vision thing.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Turkey is preparing for "military incursions" (otherwise known as an invasion) of Iraqi Kurdistan. The Bush administration apparently has no plans to oppose this, probably because there is very little that they could do about it in any event (I don't know if they feel any obligation to protect the Kurds, I'd guess not). The spin is that the Turks will be doing "hot pursuit" incursions in battling domestic Kurdish insurgents from the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), but this is also transparent spin: there are a number of Kurdish nationalist groups and widespread Kurdish nationalist sentiment in southeastern Turkey. Turkey wants to quash a nationalist movement that is resurgent because of the new autonomy (and surprising success) of Iraqi Kurdistan. Today the NYT reports that the administration is opposing a UN resolution condemning the Armenian genocide of 90 years ago so as not to antagonize Turkey, a rather less muscular approach than warning the Turks to stay out of Iraq would be. Part of the administration's thinking is driven by Turkey's historic role in NATO, which the United States would like to preserve and strengthen as a response to the rise of the European Union. That's a bad motivation for two reasons: first, NATO is on the way out: the Europeans don't want it anymore and in fact it would be a good thing for the US to get out of the European security business (I'm surprised that the Pentagon is so unsophisticated on this one, usually they're out ahead of the Bushies with this stuff). The second is that Turkey, in case you haven't noticed, is arguably a contender for most anti-American place on Earth. The reason for this, I think, is Turkey's identity as a borderland between Europe and Asia. The Turks have both the Middle Eastern and the European versions of anti-Americanism. Turkey is today a lot like Pakistan: not necessarily our enemies, not necessarily our friends. We shouldn't be dealing with them by just buying them off, and we shouldn't let the Kurds ever again suffer like they suffered at the end of the first Gulf War.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Thompson's Schtick

Fred Thompson is developing a schtick. The idea is that being a monomaniac who can only think of his/her obsessive ambition to be President is a bad thing. What you want, Thompson's theory goes, is someone who cuts the whole thing down to size, a real person who can do it, right enough, but who isn't so intense that we'll be constantly distracted from our own lives by the ongoing catastrophe that the government is always stirring up. The genius of it is the subtle criticism of President Bush and the not-so-subtle criticism of the Clintons that this pose implies. It's an outsider's pose that works under the radar (the pundocracy is acluck about his "lack of interest," just the quality he's selling). Southern voters who don't like Romney's slickness or Giuliani's ego will find this persona appealing, and that might play in the Midwest too. But maybe not. Maybe you just can't act laconic and get elected President. Meanwhile Giuliani has high national polls but much tighter numbers in Iowa. One argument then goes that it would be better to skip Iowa on the grounds that there is too much to lose. But skipping Iowa is probably too risky itself for Giuliani to do that. No one knows the consequences of coming in fourth, losing to, say, Huckabee in Iowa, but that's obviously too much risk. These are the problems of the front runner.

Friday, October 5, 2007

OK, more on Larry Craig, if everybody insists

I didn't really know about these guys before. A sociology professor on TV ran through the (apparently well-documented) scenario. There's this elaborate sort of bowerbird bathroom dance involving sustained eye contact through the crack of the door, the notorious foot-tapping movement (that I have experienced first hand), the vague hand-swiping thing and apparently several more behaviors to insure that the agreement to consensual sex is clear. And interestingly this behavior is characteristic of straight-identified men, not "gays." Is there a name for this sexual identity? I thought Larry Craig's saddest moment was when he stood at the microphones and said, "I'm not gay," as if his being gay or not established his guilt, and not whether he had solicited a vice cop in the men's room. Talk about out of it!
I can think of two fairly clear implications of all this, if the facts of the subculture are more or less as described. One is that if the vice cop says, "Yeah, he's one of those guys all right," he's most likely one of those guys. The other is that he was definitely entrapped by the vice cop. The cop had to sustain the eye contact and maintain the posture and so forth, by his own account, for some minutes, and if that's not entrapment I don't know what is. I appreciate that airports and municipalities and so on have to maintain order in the public restrooms, and basically all one can do is prohibit the behavior with penalties. But should the vice cops be sort of trolling around in your sex life, like they do in Iran? How about an attractive young woman vice cop, sent to lure the old goat to his demise? Don't answer that, dear!
As to the political matter of the senator,what, as Comrade Lenin once asked, is to be done? The way the system works is this: the sovereign citizen voter elects their executive and legislature. Those electees then serve terms fixed by the Constitution. At the end of those terms the electors have to decide anew. It's more rigid than a parliamentary system where enough votes can force a new round of elections for prime minister, who is thus always exposed. The President, for example, will serve until January 2009, regardless of shifting political opinion. So will Larry Craig, if he so chooses. And there are good reasons for resisting the idea that party bosses in Washington can oust a "sitting Senator." The clearest message the public was sending during President Clinton's impeachment trial, when the polls were giving him 90 percent approval ratings, was that the national consensus was that only the voters should decide who is President. The Senators invoking impeachment seemed like members of the high school student council, for whom rewriting constitutions and forming new governments is the very thing. Senator Craig has an election next year. Let his constituents decide. There have been Congressmen who have served from their jail cells, for that matter.
Not to imply by any of this that I think Larry Craig should stay on for another year in the Senate. Obviously the Idaho Republican Party will nominate someone else for the Senate race next year. So he could stay on as a faithful Republican, voting as he always has. That's most likely, that way people will deal with him sooner or later. But if he a) truly believes that his constituents don't want him and b) is being asked by his party to resign in the name of the party's political prospects, those are pretty hard arguments to resist. Alternatively he could go indy, come out about his true sexuality (whatever that is), and start really speaking his mind at last. Even if that were to happen, this will be my last word on the topic.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Rudderless Republicans?

I have never seen the GOP so adrift. Over the years, there have been battles between conservatives and centrists: Goldwater vs. Nixon, Ford vs. Reagan; and George W. Bush was a bit of a smoke-filled-room candidate in the first place, as the party establishment looked for someone to forestall a too right-wing candidate (a strategy that proves ironic). But unlike the Democrats, the Republicans always seemed to be a well-defined group. Certainly a great part of Republican political strength over the past 30 years has been a sense that there was at least a well-defined philosophy of government, something the Democrats have lacked since the final collapse of the old FDR coalition and the rise of conservativism in the late 1970s. Today Fred Thompson is getting bad reviews for his performance on the stump. He has George Allen's problem: he was touted as Reaganesque. When they compare you to Ronald Reagan, run for the door. You've nowhere to go but down. The enthusiasm for Thompson in the party is itself a reflection of the absence of any clear hero for the party to take to the people. Giuliani is today the front runner, with this great carom shot: he thrived in the earliest part of the season on the basis of Bush 2004 national security demagoguery: some of the hardest right-wingers bouyed him up then. Now, the national polls are showing evidence that the centrist rank and file think he is the best hope for confronting Hillary Clinton, on the basis of his relatively liberal views on domestic policy. But I doubt the voters will go for imitation Hillary when they can get the real thing. There are still some vitals signs coming from John McCain (story of his life), about whom nothing is unacceptable except that he's unacceptable. Mitt Romney is barely more noticable than McCain in the national media, the last news story I saw the commentary was that everyone would be shocked if they knew how much of the campaign money was actually his own money. Meanwhile Ron Paul is showing up at the bottom of the graphs, a presence with, maybe, 5 points. Welcome to Babylon.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Will a right-wing court abolish the death penalty?

Perhaps it was easier to run conservative Catholic Supreme Court nominees than Protestants. Certainly it was a nomination process driven for many years, as Justice Thomas somewhat surprisingly pointed out on 60 Minutes Sunday night, by the issue of abortion above all (Justice Thomas openly wondered why that should be so). And so Justice Roberts is a staunch Catholic, as is Justice Alito, as is Justice Scalia. Justice Thomas is ambiguous, at least since he dropped out of the seminary. And today we learn that the Court has been warning Texas off of eminent executions, and the practice there may be in legal limbo. Hey, what can a liberal like me say? Go get 'em, conservative Catholic guys! Abolish the death penalty!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Hillary and the Liberal Opening

There is in this election an opening for liberalism to reemerge as a popular approach to government in America for the first time since, really, the 1960s, certainly since the one-two punch of Reagan and Gingrich. Why is Hillary Clinton, notorious establishmentarian who voted for the Iraq invasion, the best champion of the Democratic Party and the liberal cause? Here are two reasons:
1) Although there is a potential swing to policy liberalism, its motivations are not entirely ideological. The center is moving left to some degree as a consequence of the perceived incompetence of Republican government. This has to do with the quality of Bush and Cheney, but it is deeper than that: Republicans today hold that 40 million uninsured people is acceptable healthcare policy, and propose to do nothing. Their position on the national debt and the trade deficit is that this is acceptable fiscal policy, and everything is fine. As to campaign finance reform, they're against it. And so on. Meanwhile, people remember the 1990s: budget surpluses, fiscal policies friendly to the middle class, an effective air war policy in the former Yugoslavia and the Middle East. Unlike the politicians and pundits, the voters are not essentially ideological. They are shoppers, and what they are shopping for at the moment is competence.
2) My Democratic friends tell me they're worried about Hilary's "negatives." But for a new liberal consensus to emerge, the right has to be beaten. This is bottom-line politics, and a secret of the Clintons' success is their understanding of this hard reality: for me to win a mandate, you have to lose (sunny platitudes from Obama notwithstanding). Ironically, Hillary, seen by the left as too establishment, too business-as-usual, is the Democrat who can defeat the conservative bloc in this all-important symbolic way: they hated her, she won the election. And that is how to achieve genuine liberal government.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Long Goodbye

Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani have to convince the voters that they're not really pro-gun control, pro-choice, pro-gay. Romney is trying to flip-flop into an ayatollah of the Christian right, Giuliani is sticking to his uber-hawk act: last week he rehearsed a version of the "madman theory" of foreign policy associated with Nixon. Thompson is counting on doing well among gun owners who opposed the immigration bill. And McCain is still out there, casting aspersions on Democrats for "disrespecting the officer corps" (his Orwellian construction for "criticizing the war policy"), and promising full speed ahead into deeper military involvement in Iraq. No one is pulling these worthies from the left. To their right are Tom Tancredo, Ron Paul, and various other scary folks. What is going on here? Part of the problem is that with the President's policies held in such disfavor by the general public, the only hope for a national-level Republican campaign is to play to the base. Meanwhile the GOP convention awards bonus delegates to states that voted for Bush in the last election, or that are solidly in the "Red" column. Why they adopted such rules is beyond me; I'm sure it made sense to someone at the time. The upshot is that the Republicans have a more acute version of the whipsaw effect that both parties have to deal with during presidential election cycles: you've got to run to your base during the primaries, then reverse course and run to the center during the general election. When you look at these guys and assess their national chances, given the conversation they're having at the moment, the only question is, How many stops to Wilderness Junction? Call this Republican primary season the Long Goodbye.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Tell it to Ike

General Grant, General Patton, General MacArthur, and General Westmoreland would be surprised by the recent revelation from Republican politicians and pundits that active-duty generals are immune from public criticism. What's really going on is that the GOP has to play guerrilla gotcha (claiming, for example, that is a surrogate of the Democratic Party), as there does not appear to be so much as a single substantive issue on which they might possibly stand to win the election. Note to Dems: start talking about the economy, health care, the environment, education, trade. Talk about anything and you win, while the President leads his patriotic parade to nowhere. Meanwhile it's true that General Petreaus did not in fact betray us: when asked if the invasion of Iraq was a good idea, he answered, "I don't know," a polite phrase that translates as "No."

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

At least they have a strategy for something

The Bush administration's "strategy" on Iraq is to try to get the country to the point where it won't come falling down around our ears the moment we withdraw. If it comes falling down a little later, that's livable (at least for Bush). But the administration has been quite adroit at keeping the war going through actions designed to manipulate the situation here at home: 1) they escalated the war in the wake of the Democratic Party's capturing of the Congress in the 2006 elections, making up the word "surge" as an alternative to the usual "escalation," with the added benefit that they can now announce a reduction of troops that are simply the troops they recently sent in (was this part of the intention all along?). 2) They scheduled Gen. Petreaus's much-anticipated report for the day before the 9/11 anniversary, understanding that the anniversary always boosts support for military action (note also that this is yet another example of waving the bloody shirt of 9/11 to advance the Iraq war). 3) They and their congressional and media proxies have advanced the audacious rhetorical idea that "cutting off funds" literally means leaving Willy and Joe out in a foxhole somewhere without any fresh bullets; as one Republican congresswoman explained the idea on the House floor, the Democrats would tell the troops "You're on your own," a ludicrous notion in reality, but a nice bit of demagoguery. The administration is not very good at running the government, minding the budget, or conducting a realistic foreign policy, but they are really very good at manipulating the American media and public. Maybe that's the lesson that this crowd learned from Vietnam - the lessons that we need to have clear war aims, and that the application of conventional military force can't solve every problem, continue to elude them.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

McCain on the War Train

There are two Republican primary candidates campaigning as pro-war candidates: Rudy Giuliani and John McCain. Giuliani has come as far as he has because he has been the candidate of the hard-core pro-war vote, right wing voters who otherwise wouldn't think of supporting the pro-choice, pro-gun control New York politician, but who also despise McCain (for what seem to me, anyway, to be somewhat vague reasons of personality). But as a perception grows that the end of the Iraq adventure might not be as catastrophic as it has long appeared that it would be, Republicans who see themselves as moderates may feel that they can support a foreign-policy hawk after all. Those voters might start to lift McCain's numbers. That in turn could be the beginning of a process that will sink Giuliani (with McCain and Thompson pulling off his voters from two directions). And the sad fact is, if the Americans manage a significant withdrawal from Iraq, an ensuing major catastrophe for the Iraqi people might not sink the American politicians identified as gung-ho back home. Can you spell "vietnamization"? (And note that all of this errant speculation is a function of the Republican primary continuing to be wide, wide open.)

Monday, September 3, 2007

Waiting for Fred

When did people start announcing their upcoming announcements that they would be running for President? We are now awaiting with not-so-bated breath former Senator Fred Thompson's announcement of his candidacy. I imagine someone told us two weeks ago that last week he would announce that he was announcing next week. What this illustrates is the thinness of the Republican field. Any number of credible Republican candidates are sitting this one out. With all due respect, someone like Fred Thompson - a TV actor who served out one undistinguished term in the Senate - isn't someone who can keep the world on the edge of its seat waiting to see what the great man will do. Not that someone of his stature can't run for President. A lot of prominent Democrats decided not to try in 1992, and a young Arkansas governor ambled out to seize the brass ring. But such a candidate needs to run with heart and soul, needs to get up on the table and shout it out, not play coy games about "testing the waters." The fact that so many Republicans are willing to start gearing up for this mediocre savior speaks volumes. Anyone who thinks he would stand a chance against the Clintons is doubly deluded: about him and about them.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Wrong arm of the law

Alberto Gonzales has resigned as Attorney General. I will refrain from trying Kremlinology as to the question of who made this decision, or why. Certainly there are plenty of possible scenarios available. The bottom line is that the Attorney General had some time ago lost the confidence of Washington and of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Republicans included in both cases. The spin is that the President didn't want him to go, which may or may not be true. Certainly this president is like his father at least in the sense that he places a very high value on loyalty. He also doesn't like the (small-d democratic) idea that public sentiment can override presidential prerogative, and I think he enjoyed the way Gonzales was getting up the noses of the senators. Like the baseball manager that he was meant by God to be (before other forces intervened), Bush was willing to stick with his guy through a tough patch.
But of course that goes right to the real problem, which is the competence of the President himself. He doesn't really respect lawyers very much. They're like scientists: fancy-pants elitists who say hard-to-understand stuff, so heck with 'em. So it was all to the good, so far as Bush was concerned, that his loyal minion Fredo wasn't particularly distinguished as a lawyer. But this sort of attitude is only sustainable when you don't actually understand the function of the expertise. Bush to the end described Gonzales as "a man of decency and integrity." Right. Also not so bright. For most of the officials in Washington, the spectacle of a clueless Attorney General was just that: a spectacle. That's our President: always the last to know.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

How's Next Week Sound?

It was bound to happen, and in today's New York Times it was reported that Iowa is now considering holding the presidential primary in December. That's 2007. Eleven months before election day. We are asked to pick the President a year before we are asked to pick the President. Somewhere there is a tipping point: a date so early that, were the primary to be held on that day, it would no longer be relevant for voters' behavior on Election Day. One of the dates would have to give, and Election Day is Constitutional. Maybe it would be good for the primary system to self-destruct in this way. Maybe we could even have meaningful conventions again, instead of the Oscar nights that we have now. My model: during April and May there are weekly primaries in roughly the same numbers of groups of states (Five primaries of ten states each? Ten primaries of five states each?), determined by lottery. Conventions Fourth of July week. New lottery every election cycle. Or something like that, instead of this out-of-control process we've somehow got on to now. Meanwhile an intriguing possibility is that the early primaries will turn out to be irrelevant.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

George and Karl

Yastrzemki, that is. Baseball deeply effects George Bush's comportment as a politician and a president, so much so that I doubt that anyone with no feel at all for the game could ever hope to understand him. One pushes the limits all of the time, relentlessly all of the time. The psychological game is never ceded. (Of course the goal is also never challenged: this administration never reconceptualizes, only reexecutes.) And how like baseball fans is the electorate! Now everyone wants to heap approbrium on Karl Rove as he gets the perp walk to the limo to whisk him off to infamy. After all, the Administration's box scores are in the pits (I just checked them this morning over coffee), and if things keep going like this the Dems will win the pennant. Da bum! Never mind that his guys were supposed to lose in 2000, and then again in 2004, and he managed it by hook or by crook. He elected a Trifecta government, majorities in the White House and both houses of congress. This guy did everything you could have asked him to do. If things went wrong with the pitching that's not his fault. Now, I figure, he wants to have a hand in the 2008 election. Big bucks await, and he's not going to just go around giving lectures. He's going to rent himself out to a Republican candidate. So the next Rove story is, which one?

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Obama Helps the Clintons

I seem to always refer to them as "The Clintons," I do think that that would be a Clinton Restoration basically, and I for one am all for it. But here's my analytical problem de jour: if all of Hilary's electoral rivals, Democrats and Republicans alike, thought that the Obama campaign was a real threat to Hilary, presumably they'd want to help Obama draw as much blood as possible until she was beat. But everybody is piling on Obama: Dodd goes out of his way to criticize him in the strongest possible terms ("irresponsible"), he seems to drive McCain crazy("Obama wouldn't know an IED from a bong"), Mitt Romney zings him ("Obama went from Jane Fonda to Dr. Strangelove in a week!"), and the Clintons always wait until the whole thing is just about over and then slip in just the teensiest needle themselves. The Clintons' goading Obama into not one but three foreign policy malapropisms (he would negotiate with anyone, he would consider nuclear weapons against terrorists, he would send US troops to Pakistan) may help make the sale for the Clintons, but without Obama Hilary would have been hanging out there as the front-runner all this time and everyone would be shooting at her. The Obama campaign forced the Clinton campaign to counterpunch, to anticipate, and generally to get it together, while the Clintons are presented as the experienced, centrist, nuanced foreign policy people (which by all evidence they are). Maybe everybody wants Obama cleared out of the way so they can get to work on Hilary themselves.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Court Jester

Alberto Gonzalez is performing for an audience of one, his patron George Bush. Bush gets a kick out of watching Gonzalez get up the noses of the senators on the Judiciary Committee. The more outrageous the obfuscation, the more contempt shown to Congress, the better. The administration can say that the senators are playing politics, it can run out the clock in the last year and a half, and above all it can telegraph its notion that the executive is not answerable to the legislature. Where Bush and Cheney get this last idea is moot, considering that it is obviously wrong, flying in the face of the whole idea of a constitutional republic. Meanwhile the Attorney General tries to outdo himself with each appearance, confident about the warm embrace he'll receive when he goes back to the man who would be king.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Hillary-Obama Exchange

This week we had the argument between Hillary and Obama over foreign policy. Obama said he would talk to anybody and everybody, defensible as a general, attitudinal statement in contrast to the Bushies. Clinton made a jab, pointing out that each case is ad hoc and one doesn't necessarily display an over-eagerness to talk. This is correct and more sophisticated. Obama loses the argument. It seems, though, that Obama sensed that it might do him some good to be seen fighting the Clintons, so he tried to persist with the argument. That was a mistake: what emerges is that Clinton is indeed more experienced and sophisticated than Obama (just as common sense would tell you, looking at the resumes). Obama loses, Clinton and, perhaps significantly, John Edwards win. Another excess of the endless campaign. Last night on TV someone commented that the primaries are "only six months away." I refer you to Sartre's play No Exit.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Dickens and Paris

Hilton, that is. The 26-year old "celebutante," a millionaire in her own right, was released from jail in Los Angeles today after serving three weeks of a 45-day sentence (and evincing "good behavior"). She cost the taxpayers more than ten times the average per day cost of prisoners because of all of the medical and psychiatric evaluations that her legal team managed to shake out of the system. The New York Times reported that already at least one person has filed suit alleging that their own medical needs were neglected by the Sheriff's Office.
I wonder how bad the worst story is in the Los Angeles County penal system? Let's see now, it's going to be a black woman, she has, maybe, leukemia or a brain tumor or something like that. She got arrested for stealing a bag of potato chips, and ended up in one of the worst dungeons in the system, where the doctor didn't get around to examining her for two years. Now she's in a wheel chair and blind, but there is a bureaucratic problem with her $350-a-month payment. Do you think that sounds exaggerated? I invite you to check the United States penal system out.
According to the Justice department's "Prison statistics" page at, there are currently 2,193,778 people in prison in the United States. This page states that there are 491 prisoners per 100,000 citizens: 471 white males per 100,000 white males, 3,145 black males per 100,000 black males. Approximately 500,000 of those people are imprisoned for drug crimes (as distinct from "drug-related" crimes). ranks the US as #1 in ratio of prisoners to population on Earth. Russia is #2, and the first western European country to show up on the list is Spain at #61. All of the basket cases and tyrannys of the world are between the US and Spain by this measurement.
And so this to me is the moral of the Paris Hilton case, that we need to see that 26-year old Paris Hilton and a 26-year old black man are entitled to equal justice, in one direction or another. She wasn't dropped down into the Dickensian dungeons, but they're there.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The State of Columbia

The current movement among some Republican lawmakers to create a voting Congressional seat for the District of Columbia's 550,000 residents is welcome, but it will be another step in a long road to justice and Constitutional citizenship for residents of the District, and indeed for all United States commonwealths and territories. As an eleven-year resident of Puerto Rico, I think it's striking that these issues of citizenship status for literally millions of people are scarcely in the consciousness of the larger public. But I wouldn't want to see this particular move celebrated as the end of the problem. The people of the District (and all other places where the people are American citizens under American rule) need proportional representation (in general they need exactly the same citizenship rights as all other American citizens). Would a state of 550,000 residents have more than one Representative? And what about Senators? The current plan would create an additional congressional seat for Utah to offset the political impact, thus sweetening the vote for Republicans, much as Republican Alaska was the balance for Democratic Hawaii in the 1950s. (I can imagine Dave Chappell going to town on this too-literal acknowledging of segregation.) But there isn't some unrepresented Republican place amongst the territories, I'd imagine, but maybe the Marshall Islands, maybe Guam's a surprise, the Virgins are strictly Democratic (like the District) but I think the Bushies might be right that the Republicans could build something in Puerto Rico. Of course the whole Puerto Rican discussion is different because of the independence movement, but that question also extends to all U.S. territories: do they have the right to vote their own independence, or not? From this point of view, it is presumptious for the Congress to simply decide that one and only one representative, without the apparatus of state government, and forget about the Senate and the Electoral College, is an adequate resolution of the issue.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Tucker and Stonewall

Jackson, that is. The rough soldier from Tennessee had a hard time gaining the respect of the Washington elite. Or one should say, he never did gain it and was never going to gain it. He outraged the upper crust by opening the doors of the White House for the first time; local gossips had his "hillbillies" standing on the chairs and wiping their hands on the drapes.
The more things change, etc. Let's see now: John McCain's father was admiral of the Pacific Fleet; Mitt Romney's father was CEO of General Motors and governor of Michigan; Al Gore's father was a senior Democratic senator; remember that picture of John Kerry as a boy spending the day on a yacht with JFK?; and George Bush's family you will recall.
All of this reflecting on MSNBC host Tucker Carlson's intense dislike of the Clintons. The Clintons, it seems, are self-promoting, money-grubbing hacks, phonies who would be nowhere if their luck had gone just a little bit differently. Yesterday he pointed out poll numbers that indicated that the poorer and less-educated a woman was, the more likely she was to support Clinton over Obama, whereas with better-educated women, the two candidates were neck and neck. (He didn't find it remarkable that there were over twice as many women in the first category as in the second.) I was struck by Carlson's interpretation of these data. He didn't conclude that Clinton's support among black voters was better than Obama's, although these data suggest just that. From his point of view, the evidence suggests that the Clintons are a trashy lot of rabble, and that the smart shoppers are going for Obama.
The more general observation is that the upper-class of philosophical conservatives have assumed since the Reagan years that they have a tacit claim on populist allegiances. They don't appreciate the effect they create when they sneer at non-rich people for being self-promoting, or for having spotty tastes, or dubious associations, or a million other things that self-made people have had to make do with since ancient times. Tucker Carlson, who is ably diplomatic on any number of other topics, thinks nothing of slamming the Congressional Black Caucus, for example, as a particularly villianous nest of grifters and frauds. Ridiculous on the face of it, but to Tucker just an obvious fact.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Puerto Rican AIDS a Test for Bush

I don't think that President Bush is the type to be terribly concerned about "legacy" issues coming in to the end of his term, but I do think he feels the same as always about what he sees as his political duty to the GOP. So this week we have rollouts of Bush proposals to 1) at least start to develop a national emissions policy for the US (something that would be years along if Gore had won in 2000) and 2) increase US funding for AIDS programs in Africa to $30 billion. This is policy on a grand scale, which is precisely why Bush is able to make it. He will cooperate with the loading of some tens of billions of dollars into the pipeline, and that will be that: what happens to the money downstream years from now is not his responsibility.
There is a faster way, though, to get some money to AIDS patients more or less right away, if the president really wants to put his money where etc., and that would be to improve funding for AIDS patients in the US and Puerto Rico. I mention Puerto Rico, aside from the fact that I live here, not because Puerto Rico has the US's worst rates of infection, as many might believe. Actually Puerto Rico ranks fifth amongst states and US territories in terms of infections per thousand people. Rather Puerto Rico is important because territories and states don't administer this kind of federal money in a consistent way. In the case of Medicaid, spending for Puerto Rico is "capped" (by US Congress) at $240 million. Meanwhile, the "Ryan White Act" money to supplement Medicaid for AIDS patients is a national fund of just $53 million. President Bush could show he was some action and not just all talk if he directed some of his civic-minded money to underfunded AIDS patients who are US citizens.
Unfortunately there is another problem for federal money in Puerto Rico, and that is the traditional Latin American bureaucracy that still exists in Puerto Rico and employs many thousands of government workers. In this old bureaucratic culture, federal money is "the pie," and the actual intentions of federal grants are treated with an attitude that approaches passive resistance. When Federal administrators suggested that the Ryan White Act money might be deposited in its own account, instead of just being emptied into the coffers of the San Juan municipal government, they were rebuffed. Possession, the reasoning goes, in nine tenths of the law. It is no surprise, then, that investigators complain of an excessive degree of both financial irregularities and service inefficiencies, and many AIDS patients are not getting the drugs they need.
Come to think of it, there was a politician in the 1990's who oversaw a program called the Paperwork Reduction Act, which apparently had some success in reducing the number of federal employees. You remember: Vice-President Gore.
(Today's post draws from reporting today in the New York Times.)

Monday, June 4, 2007

Bush's Emissions Plan Plan

There is clearly now an opportunity for movement on human-induced global climate change, specifically including reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. One feels the same kind of popular will as during the nuclear freeze movement of twenty years ago. Note that that movement did not in fact succeed in abolishing nuclear weapons. There is never a certainty of success. History is not determined. Still, there is just now enormous political pressure to take action (or to be seen as taking action) on the emissions-control front. In the US, for example, a certain politician who lost a disputed election to the president has come to be the most well-recognized leader on climate change policy in the country, going into an election when the president's party has reason to fear punishment from the voters on perceived (ok, real) failure to progress on environmental issues, among other things.
At first glance, things look a bit grim. The US last week won headlines around the world for rejecting the German host proposal on global warming policy in advance of the next round of talks. The same old brazen Bush rejectionism in the face of world opinion, on the surface. The Chinese, meanwhile, released their own document, predictably but still starkly similar to the US position: China will pursue technological fixes and efficiencies as it can, but the government does not think that it can make good-faith commitments for overall rates of reduction (the "top-down" model of the Kyoto Accords) while it is industrializing and expanding its economy during the present period. The Chinese have discovered the same logic that moves the Bush Administration. The idea is that economic and industrial activity is not evenly distributed and therefore global reduction targets are not rational for the biggest emitters.
I don't agree with that argument as stated, but I do see the process changing. There is a difference between some "top-down" formal imposition of climate change policy at whatever level (from municipal ordinance to global treaty), and the wider "bottom-up" informal social and political shift to an awareness of the problem and the will to do something about it. It may be that the only practical way to get started is for all of the parties to try to figure out what they think that they can, in fact, do at the moment: technically, practically, financially, politically.
Don't get me wrong: I'm all for municipal ordinances and global treaties and everything in between. As for the Bushies, at the very best their intentions are to try to set something up (start a national policy on emissions) that will be in place for the future president who will actually make hard choices about this. At worst the Bushies seek to co-opt those energies to forestall just such a policy for as long as possible. But I see the gears starting to move, the meters starting to read out, in a political climate where it is no longer possible for a regime to simply reject action.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Long Night for Joe Biden

It will be a mere TV show, not a Great Debate, in September when the Congressional Black Caucus's Democratic presidential debate airs on Fox: Joe Biden, Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel attending. The rest of the Democratic contenders are refusing to go on Fox due to the alleged (OK, the real) conservatively-slanted bias of that station. (John Edwards is the only candidate so far to explicitly say so.) It seems to me that the candidates were asked to accept an invitation from the CBC, implicitly showing their respect for the good judgement of their host in arranging the venue. Surely this was the understanding all of those years with the League of Women Voters? There's no doubt that the CBC had their own discussion and debate about the decision to go with Fox, after all. Shouldn't their intentions be respected?
I don't know why the CBC chose Fox, but I can think of some reasons for doing so, mainly that a Democratic Party debate on Fox might enjoy a more politically diverse audience than usual. A different decision is the decision of the candidates to stay away, but the same logic mitigates against doing that: the public wants the Democratic Party to stand up to the right, to throw some punches, and not to appear so anxious not to alienate anyone politically.
It may very well be that Fox would like to use the opportunity to make Democrats in general look as bad as possible, although it's not clear how much control Fox would have over choice of questioners or questions. A subtext here is that this now-endless sequence of televised "debates" is souring with the candidates, who find that the moderators and questioners have too much control over the encounter and that the candidates have become ratings fodder for someone else. But if Fox does have malicious intentions for the Democrats, so much the better for the show I should think. The Democratic voters are looking for someone who can survive in this sort of environment, aren't we? Seems very unClintonlike to duck it, thinking along those lines. Think of the ratings.
As for the yet different question about "legitimizing" Fox, the right-wing propaganda machine, I think that doesn't work as an argument for two reasons. Politically this is an insular response: legitimate according to whom? I for one don't claim to have any authority to enforce what's legitimate; I respect the right of, say, the Amish to choose not to watch the number one-rated cable news channel. Secondly, don't we have a very standard lecture about how making pariahs of our enemies only makes pariahs of ourselves? Do Clinton, Obama and Edwards really mean to say that they won't even talk to Fox News? Come off it.
In any event, the candidates should attend out of respect for the Congressional Black Caucus. (And tip o' the hat this morning to Brian Lamb on C-Span's Washington Journal.)

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Onion Had It Right

"Massachusetts Supreme Court Orders All Citizens to Gay Marry," went the satirical Onion headline (in The Onion, the punchline always comes first). But if "gay marriage" is the current reading of "civil unions," The Onion may be on to something. I start with the premise that the government has as little business as possible in my domestic arrangements, love life, and so forth. As proponents of "traditional" (read: gay-excluding) marriage like to point out, marriage is supposed to be a sacred trust, and government has no business delineating what is sacred and what is not.

Why, then, ought we to tolerate any secular laws regarding marriage at all? There are important reasons, the most important being the adjudication of child welfare and custody, care of the elderly and disabled and visitation rights, and settlement of probate (property, payments, inheritance) in the event of death, divorce, or abandonment. Innocents need protection and money matters need formal procedures, in short. Establishing formal civil status is necessary for people who share dependents or property. Civil union is the right phrase for this arrangement. Note that many couples could benefit from civil unions: elderly siblings who share a house, say, or otherwise unrelated parents of a "love child." I see no reason why civil union could not be undertaken by groups of people larger than two, for that matter.

As for love, marriage, family, romance, sex: the government has no business in any of that. These are matters for individuals, families, churches. Jesse Jackson once pointed out that we can no more coerce someone not to pray in the schools than we can force them to pray: prayer is private and personal, a part of our thoughts and sentiments, not our public actions. It simply cannot be legislated one way or the other. Marriage is like that. Passing laws forbidding people to be married is like passing laws requiring people to belong to a religious faith (the Spanish Inquisition was one large-scale attempt; their enforcement history is instructive).

The irony here is that it is precisely the sacred, inviolate character of marriage, that aspect that causes uneasy intuitions about gay marriage in some traditionally-minded folks, that makes gay marriage (literally) impossible to prohibit. It's like trying to prohibit people from believing in God.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

What Immigration Problem?

Representative Artur Davis, a Democrat from Alabama and a member of the House Judiciary Committee, makes an important point about the current immigration debate. In a country with a relatively low unemployment rate, competition for jobs exacerbated by immigration is concentrated in the "low wage base." The low wage base is the bottom sector of the labor force, unskilled manual laborers. Rep. Davis, an African-American congressman from the South, points out that our low wage base is larger than it needs to be (although still not large enough or evenly distributed enough to fill, say, our migrant agricultural labor needs). Meanwhile we suffer from labor shortages in "higher" sectors of the labor force, those requiring technically trained workers. What is needed is more education, vocational and otherwise, for lower-income Americans. Someday we're going to understand what many other countries (notably the Asians) have long understood: that education is a public benefit as well as a private one.
Two more quick points about immigration. First, while it's true that the current situation (somewhere between 10 and 15 million people in the country with inadequate documentation) is no way to run things and ought to be reformed, it's not true that the problem of illegals has now somehow come to a crisis point for the nation's economy or security. The situation is nothing new, and in fact we need at least some millions of those workers to make up for unskilled labor shortages in agriculture, construction, services and other industries. What is happening right now is that we are in a contentious election cycle, one where the right has good reason to worry about the outcome. The immigration debate has been cranked up once again as a lightening-rod issue to galvanize the right-wing populist vote, much as the gay marriage issue is also brought to the fore not by gay rights liberals, but by their opponents.
Which brings me to the second point. We humans are territorial, defensive around strangers and worried to protect our families and property. It's easy to demagogue an issue like immigration, much as the Republicans demagogue the "terrorism" issue. We are a country of 300 million people with an unemployment rate hovering around four to six percent (six percent we consider bad). In other moods, conservatives are quick to point out that the economy is doing well. So I ask again: what immigration problem?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Is Al-Queda Good for Israel?

Today I'm wondering about this argument: Islamic militancy is a gift to Israel, because Israel is put in the position of a bulwark against an apocalyptic, nihilistic menace. With increasing civil conflict around Muslim assimilation in Europe, and signs of an anti-militant backlash developing in the Arab world, Israel may come to have a new diplomatic pass from quarters that have spurned it for decades. Like the by-the-numbers diplomacy of the Cold War era, Middle East diplomacy is becoming formulaic. It turns out that not all suicide bombers are the same: if the cause is global religious totalitarianism, sympathy will be in short supply. This week we're hearing that Al-Queda is now making a push to establish operations in Palestine, while the jihadis are out-gunning the Lebanese Army in that country.
All of this appears to play into a well-established strategy of the Israelis. They have always sought to undermine the development of effective Palestinian government and security. Since the days of Begin, and epitomized by Sharon, Likud strategy has been to forestall and prevent the emergence of a credible Palestinian state. Now the policy is paying off as the vacuum is filled with an enemy that justifies the most aggressive militancy, including perpetual occupation.
Israel must face up to its own responsibility for the radicalization of Arab politics. It may be that the path of aggression will pay off, the Arab masses will turn against Islamic fundamentalism and militancy, and peace with acceptance of Israel will be secured. But I'm skeptical. Sectarian conflict is all about individual choice. Amazingly enough, we humans often choose to live in a state of perpetual war. That is the path that Israel has taken. To leave that path will require fairly radical changes, and those changes get harder and harder to make as the Arab world becomes more and more alienated, more and more reactionary. Today, Israelis can go one of two ways: they can say, "Look at these radical Islamists, and don't blame us for living by the sword," ignoring their own role in the evolution of the situation, or they can stop digging the hole.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Rudy's Experiment

Rudy Giuliani is mystifying the pundocracy with his high poll numbers among conservative voters. The mystery is about how anyone who is pro-choice, pro-gay rights, and pro-gun control can possibly achieve this. Here's the solution to the mystery: it's all about the war. Giuliani's is a high-concept campaign, very strictly modelled on the Bush-Cheney campaign of 2004. There is one issue, tagged "national security" but more accurately called "scaring the daylights out of people." The procedure is pure Giuliani, that is, the original Giuliani, the head-cracking tough guy New Yorkers knew before 9/11. If you elect the Democrats, the terrorists are going to come and kill you and your family. If you elect the Democrats, they won't do anything, and the terrorists will detonate bombs in the cities. This was Cheney's role in 2004. It takes a lot of brass, demagogic blood libel against your opponents that it is. An absence of shame is necessary. And who responds to this? The Republican hard-core, the base that is now the only pro-war constituency. And, with them, it still works. Mystery solved.
Meanwhile, I do have to hand it to Giuliani that he has not waffled a bit on the social issues, even lately with the pressure on. At this point that's turned into something interesting and even admirable. How far can he go? Answer: Not as far as the Republican nomination. And were he to get the nomination, a half-a-Democrat on social issues and a pro-war candidate in an anti-war nation, he'd get shellacked. But it's not going to happen.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Romney Question

I'm still a little skeptical about Mitt Romney's campaign for the GOP nomination. The pro-Romney buzz is that he's been campaigning well, and he's launched an early air war with his "I love to veto" spot in heavy rotation on cable. But I don't think he comes across very well, he seems inauthentic and may be that rare primary candidate who is actually too good-looking (read "packaged"). Still, at the moment he's at least one of the top three or four GOP hopefuls, and this past week Al Sharpton faced down accusations of being prejudiced against Mormons, so a bit of discussion is in order. Today I'm thinking about his father, George Romney, and also about the race issue for the Mormon church.
First, I think one has to put his religion in the perspective of his family. His father George was chairman of the American Motors Company, an auto industry hotshot back in the glory days. He went on to be the moderate Republican Governor of Michigan from 1963 to 1969. What that tells us is that the Romneys are sophisticated, worldly people, from Detroit, not from Moab, with lives lived in the society of America's corporate and political elite. Any suggestion that they are religious fanatics or cultists, or whatever it is that Mormons are supposed to be by their detractors, is spurious.
Then there are the specifics of George's political career. He ran as a moderate choice for the GOP presidential nomination in 1968, and opposed the war in Vietnam. In fact, that campaign foundered partially because of his gaffe of using the word "brainwashed" to describe his experience visiting Vietnam in 1967, which enabled the hawks to pillory him with the party faithful. Later President Nixon made him HUD secretary, in which post he tried, unsuccessfully, to expand the federal housing program. This family history distinguishes the son from the hard-right fundamentalist crowd, mostly Southern, that is the usual faction of the GOP identified with religion. In fact many of those conservatives, Baptists and Southern Methodists, villify Mormons. Romney is "identified with religion" only because Mormon national candidates are unusual, not because he himself makes a big deal about it.
He does make a bit of a deal out of it, though, when he says he'd like to be for Mormons what JFK was for Catholics in 1960. This brings me back to the Sharpton flap (Rev. Al seems to be turning up in my posts a lot for some reason). I don't think it's fair to jump on a black leader for criticizing the Mormon Church. I understand that today's Mormons aren't a bunch of white supremacist racists, but churches have histories and these histories need to be discussed. People don't get baited as anti-Catholic bigots for questioning, say, the actions of the Vatican during WW II, or the church's history in Latin America, or its policies regarding women in the priesthood and otherwise. If Mitt Romney wants to be the Mormon JFK, a discussion of the Mormon Church's past is, in fact, a necessary part of that process.
It's a judgement call whether there is overtly racist material in early Mormon scripture. However, Mormons were forced to take racial (and racist) positions to deal with political problems during their westward migration in the nineteenth century. In the border state of Missouri the Mormon Church banned blacks to allay the fears of pro-slavery neighbors and allies; it was during this period that the "Curse of Ham" nonsense was cooked up to ban blacks from the church, later from the priesthood, and even from heaven. Later, tensions with native Americans in the far west reinforced white supremacist doctrine.
All very regrettable, but in the USA we don't live in the past. At least not that far back in the past. However, a more difficult fact is that it was not until 1978, less than thirty years ago, that a new "revelation" conveniently allowed blacks into the priesthood of this aggressively evangelizing church. This is the history that exercises critics like Rev. Sharpton. Jumping on him for hypocrisy won't cut it: I don't think Mormons are anything other than another type of Christian, but there will have to be a public discussion of the racist past of the church if Mormon politicians hope to thrive as national candidates.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Political Fruit of Irish Prosperity

"The Troubles" of Northern Ireland have long been based in the poorest sectors of that community. The walled-off enclaves of Catholics and Protestants are the meanest ghettos of Belfast and Derry. Meanwhile, in the (even slightly) more affluent suburbs and gentrified neighborhoods, most people in Northern Ireland live and work side by side without much thought to who is Catholic and who is Protestant. For that matter, leftish Protestants will advocate a united Irish Republic, while conservative Catholics can be found who will support continued union with Britain. What happened yesterday, when home rule returned to Northern Ireland for the first time since 2002, is another step in a process that has been moving along for a long time.
That process is much more economic than political. When Ian Paisley, the Protestant Unionist leader, said yesterday that "I believe we are starting on a road to bring us back to peace and prosperity," he's not got it exactly right. First of all, there's never been peace and prosperity in hundreds of years, ever since the English first invaded the place in the twelth century. Ireland's is the sad history of a too-weak country with a too-strong neighbor. But more importantly, the political deal-making of Mr. Paisley and Mr. Adams is not the road to Irish prosperity. It is Irish prosperity that is forcing the hard men to come out from under their rocks once and for all. Like all sectarian conflicts, nominally nationalist, religious, or what-have-you, Ireland's troubles have always been fueled by economic hardship. The fight in Northern Ireland was about who got a slice of a very meager pie. Today most people in Ireland are doing better than they ever have. Anybody who owns real estate is about a third again richer than they were just a few years ago, and the market continues to rise; there aren't enough workers for all of the work, and the main social tension in Ireland today is over immigrants from Africa and elsewhere.
Where does it all lead? To a united Ireland under the government in Dublin. The Protestants of Northern Ireland are no longer in any real danger of losing anything with reunification, which is also in the best interests of the UK. It will take a while longer. It is being accomplished by powerful economic forces, beyond anyone's control.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Darwin and the Conservatives

The topic of evolution leads us right to the most basic split in the Republican Party. We're talking basic metaphysics of ideology: do you think that the universe is organized from the bottom up, or from the top down? Christians and Marxists (close cousins whose grandfather is named Plato) aim for a society where everything is organized according to a transcendent, master plan. Augustine's City of God and Marx's Communist Manifesto are examples of the genre. Darwin was reading a different economist, however: Adam Smith, who argued in his Wealth of Nations (1776) that micro events at the level of autonomous, self-interested individuals eventually added up to efficient macro economies, governed by market forces (another example of this genre is John Stuart Mill, see On Liberty). This is the liberal (small "l") tradition of empiricism, the granddaddy of which is David Hume. Darwin simply applied this logic to biology, where the phenomenon of speciation had been observed for some time (gradual change noticed first by the geologists), but no mechanism had been observed to explain the emergence of organization.
If you're a conservative Republican reading this (not that any probably are), the question is absolutely basic: are you a free-market, small-government voter, or are you a Christian voter? Because it's one or the other, folks.
While I'm at it, what about that argument for intelligent design? Here's the problem: You said that a formally-organized thing (in this case, the world) must have a designer. So you concluded that the designing God exists. Where does the formally-organized God come from? It was you yourself who insisted that a formally-organized entity needed an explanation. You've explained nothing. That's an argument from David Hume (Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion). Check him out! He'll make a better conservative out of you.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

The Thompson Bubble

Fred Thompson is a fairly good candidate for national office, in a league with, say, John Edwards: one undistinguished term in the Senate, and a regular presence on some crime shows on TV, he looks the part (as everyone points out) and has a consistent conservative take on the issues (can you think of an issue on which his position stands out from the crowd?). My take is not that he's a bad candidate for the GOP nomination, just that he's an average one. So what is the moral of the story? That is that the Thompson bubble reflects the wide-open state of the Republican race. His camp should be worried about the comparisons to Reagan. The last pseudoReagan was George Allen. All you can do is fall off the pedestal; run away from that hype as fast as possible. I also think that the here today, gone tomorrow dynamic in both parties' races reflects the absurdity of trying to pick the president a year and a half before we're going to pick the president. There's too little to lose.
Meanwhile the above-mentioned vacuum might yet help John McCain. A big difference between McCain 2008 and, say, Gore 2004 is that the media loves McCain (while inexplicably loathing Al Gore), and they will run to assist as soon as his campaign shows signs of revival. It is also true that yet more candidates may and probably will emerge. I think Newt Gingrich is going to run, for example. But with this pathologically elongated election season ("season"? This is a lifestyle!), this all rises to approximately the level of baseball trivia at this point.
PS Is "media" here a singular or plural noun? What does Safire say?

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

The Batterer Always Claims to be the Victim

Can I just register my disgust with the current discussion of "benchmarks" for the Iraqi government? It's all the fault of these feckless natives, is that it? We need to be stern, like good parents, with our wayward allies? Let them suffer the consequences of failing to do...what? Resolve these ancient sectarian conflicts, now that we've torn off the scab? Oh, the response goes, but it was good to depose the murderous dictator. Alright: good enough for the Iraqis to pay this cost? To say nothing of the cost to us. Blaming the Iraqi government for failing to administer a peaceful and functioning Iraq is a seductive way to avoid the guilt that we as a nation have for the current situation in Iraq, simple as that. It's an excuse to withdraw for people who don't want to admit that the invasion was a mistake. It's a rationalization for leaving these people to their fate after we trashed their security situation.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Bush, Clinton, and Congress

We're hearing complaints now that Congress is unfairly attacking and interfering with President Bush. Imagine subpoenas for Cabinet members. It's really not hard for us Democrats to imagine, we can remember it well: can you say "The 1990s"? Let me refresh your memory: Bill Clinton had his shaky first two years in office with a Democratic congressional majority, and then spent the next six years confronted by an aggressive Republican House that defined itself as the expression of a conservative movement. Remember Jim Leach's investigation of Whitewater? Hearings and subpoenas over dismissals in the travel office? Remember the federal prosecutor who decided to go after the Clintons after the savings and loan scandals? The Clinton legal shop was one of the legendary offices of that administration, by simple virtue of necessity. As to that, is there anything I haven't mentioned? What about poor beleaguered W? Elected with a Republican House, from 2003 to 2007 he enjoyed a unified Republican government: Both houses and the White House under Republican control. He faces a Democratic Congress for only the last two years of his eight-year term. He couldn't have had it better. I hope the Democratic Congress runs the score up as high as possible.